Thursday, September 23, 2010

iPad Launch and What it Means

Today a pilot 1:1 iPad program was launched at the high school I work at. 11 students, 4 teachers and one supervisor received iPads. The students are part of another pilot initiative to build small learning communities within a traditional high school. What was great to witness was how excited students and teachers were. Students reported to class before the morning bell rang and cleared their desks in anticipation of receiving an iPad. I guess, who would not be excited to receive an iPad. However, I think students and teachers were and continue to be excited at the prospects of what can be accomplished in a connected classroom where all stakeholders have ready access to powerful technologies.

While only small in the number of students and teachers involved in the 1:1 initiative, the impact of the program could have significant implications on how students, teachers, administrators and parents view instruction. Our pilot program is not unique. 1:1 programs exist in classrooms throughout the world and more and more educational institutions are becoming wireless environments with each passing day. However, having the chance to watch transformations in the classroom through the access being provided is significant in regards to changing on a global scale, how teachers construct space for students to grow and how students assume ownership over learning.

It will be curious to see how after the initial euphoria of receiving a new shiny device dissipates, students and teachers react to a classroom environment where all stakeholders have equal access.

It remains to be seen what occurs. However,if today is any indication, the excitement for what is possible should lead to memorable accomplishments

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Boy and A Bike

A constant challenge for educators is to make sure that learning is relevant. If we want our students to be responsible global citizens they need to be able to apply knowledge to solve contemporary problems. However, why are so many courses offered for high school students rooted in the past. I understand that learning about the past helps us make informed decisions about the present. While history does not repeat itself, I comes pretty darn close (this was a famous quote from a former college professor).

I think there is a need to construct courses for high school students that are rooted in the present. I remember reading that a school in New york City had based a class around Jean-Francois Rischard's Twenty Global Issues, Twenty Years to Solve Them. According to Rischard, the next twenty years will be of critical importance to our planet. How global problems are resolved over these years will determine the fate of our planet for the next generations. Rischard outlines the twenty global problems as follows:

Sharing our planet: Issues involving the global commons

• Global warming
• Biodiversity and ecosystem losses
• Fisheries depletion
• Deforestation
• Water deficits
• Maritime safety and pollution

Sharing our humanity: Issues requiring global commitment

• Massive step-up in the fight against poverty
• Peacekeeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism
• Education for all
• Global infectious diseases
• Digital divide
• Natural disaster prevention and mitigation

Sharing our rule book: Issues needing a global regulatory approach

• Reinventing taxation for the 21st century
• Biotechnology rules
• Global financial architecture
• Illegal drugs
• Trade, investment and competition rules
• Intellectual property rights
• E-commerce rules
• International labor and migration rules

I see such relevance in having students examine issues that challenge the global community. We hope to graduate students who are active in solving problems that plague local, national and global communities. Think about the critical and reflective thinking that goes on as students fully engage in a prolonged inquiry into one of or several of the bullets listed by Rischard.

I wonder if we could create a course for students that acts as more of a think tank. Students could be provided with the space to convene and brainstorm possible solutions to current obstacles. To do so students would need to master content knowledge, develop a process and framework and present and defend a response. This would also be the epitome of a global classroom as students could reach out to experts in various fields.

I would recommend taking a few minutes to read an opinion piece written in today's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. The op-ed article introduces to the reader a young boy, Abel, who has to walk upwards of six hours to get to and from school. The history of the boy's family and his struggle to receive an education and take care of his younger siblings is both tragic and inspirational. However, the article also introduces the reader to Frederick K.W. Day, a Chicago businessman who has piloted a program to provide bikes for students such as Abel. By providing Abel a bike, his commute time to school is decreased and he has more time to study and care for his family.

Kristof ends the article with the following conclusion:

"One obstacle is donor fatigue and weariness with African corruption and repeated aid failures. Those are legitimate concerns. But this column isn’t just a story about a boy and a bike. Rather, it’s an example of an aid intervention that puts a system in place, one that is sustainable and has local buy-in, in hopes of promoting education, jobs and a virtuous cycle out of poverty. It’s a reminder that there are ways to help people help themselves, and that problems can have solutions — but we need to multiply them. Just ask Abel."

Something as simple as providing a bike has made such a difference. I wonder if provided the time, space and support, our students could not find some powerful solutions.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unlearning How to Teach

What do you make of the following:

Rather than teachers delivering an information product to be ‘consumed’ and fed back by the student, co-creating value would see the teacher and student mutually involved in assembling and dissembling cultural products. As co-creators, both would add value to the capacity building work being done through the invitation to ‘meddle’ and to make errors. The teacher is in there experimenting and learning from the instructive complications of her errors alongside her students, rather than moving from desk to desk or chat room to chat room, watching over her flock.

How much of what we learned about teaching either as a student observer or through a training program has to be pushed aside? The above excerpt challenges what was an accepted paradigm governing classroom instruction and for many of us, this was the learning environment we experienced as students.

When one considers what is valued in today's world, instruction needs to reflect an environment in which teachers and students are working together to solve complex problems. Within the quest to find possible solutions classroom participants have to be willing to experiment and construct a working process. Teachers have to see the value in working along side students and how each group of classroom participants can learn from one another. Students can benefit from watching teachers tackle a complex problem and see steps that are taken to build successful strategies. Sharing with students how educators learn needs to be seamlessly infused into the classroom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Questions We Want Students to Answer

The following was ripped from a Will Richardson blog post:

What I’m most hopeful for, however, is that their stories about school will change. Last year, far too much of the reporting about their days started with “I got a ___ on my ___ test!” or “Yes, I’ve got homework” (said in the same voice as one might say “Yes, I’ve got ringworm.”) School was something that rarely sparked a conversation about learning. Usually, it was a topic to be avoided or ignored. I hope to hear more excitement this year, more passion about learning, more thinking and doing. To that end, I’ve been coming up with a mental list of the types of questions I’m hoping they might answer:

What did you make today that was meaningful?

What did you learn about the world?

Who are you working with?

What surprised you?

What did your teachers make with you?

What did you teach others?

What unanswered questions are you struggling with?

How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?

What’s something your teachers learned today?

What did you share with the world?

What do you want to know more about?

What did you love about today?

What made you laugh?

As we prepare for students to enter our school building, let's make sure that we are occasioning experiences for students where these types of questions are being asked and addressed by our students.